Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.

Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.
The rebuild of the Illinois football program continues as they drop a tough 34-31 loss in overtime to Purdue.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rolling Right Along

So, the Fighting Illini football team is 5-0, with some winnable games on the horizon, you say? Yes, the view from this position is nice right now, but the journey to get there has been anything but easy. The Illini won their latest game by 3 points over Northwestern, a recurring theme that has seen them escape by that margin for the third consecutive game. What makes the win over Northwestern so important is that they had to claw their way back against the Wildcats to even make it a game. Imagine the irony! Clawing their way back against Wildcats! Anyway, with the Illini down 28-10 in the third quarter, things weren't looking so good for the orange and blue.
Some fans apparently had enough at that point as well, as some of them in attendance got up and left. But, if there is something that can be said for this season's Illinois football team, it is that you never give up thinking that something good will happen. That cannot be said for previous Ron Zook coached teams. In fact, if this were last season, the Illini more than likely would have lost that game. This team has the will to win, and they showed that mettle on Saturday by orchestrating a miraculous comeback to remain undefeated. Senior wide receiver A. J. Jenkins set a school record with 268 yards receiving on 12 catches, 3 of those going for touchdowns. It seemed like Jenkins was open all day long, and Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase found him at every opportunity. When Jenkins wasn't catching passes, Scheelhaase targeted Spencer Harris, another wideout that ended up catching 6 passes for 63 yards. On the day, Scheelhaase completed 21 of 32 passes for 391 yards and those 3 tosses for scores to Jenkins, and also had a touchdown rushing as well. It was refreshing to see the offense come alive, and the 38-35 final score gave people leaving Memorial Stadium a sense of relief that they had come back to win the game, but also that the team is 5-0 and on the verge of bowl eligibility in October, something that hasn't happened around these parts for a long time. In fact, it has been 60 years since the Illini have started a season this successful, and at his weekly visit with the media on Tuesday, Zook stated that "we don't want to lose focus, because when you first develop the mindset to win, then you have to keep that vision to win even more". The Illini will get a chance to expand that vision this coming Saturday when they travel to Bloomington, Indiana to battle the struggling Indiana Hoosiers in their first road game of the season (1:30 pm CT, BTN). This has been a rare occurrence playing the first 5 games of the season at home, but the Illini weathered the storm and have a chance now to really make a jump in the polls this month. Coming into the game with Indiana, the Illini are ranked #19 in the AP media poll and #16 in the USA Today coaches' poll.

The marketing staff in the athletic department at the University of Illinois is putting together a unique promotion for the upcoming Ohio State game, which happens to be the next home game for the Illini on Saturday, October 15. "Stripe The Stadium" will be attempted at this game, where even numbered sections are encouraged to wear blue, and odd numbered sections and the north stands are asked to wear orange. A map of the project can be found by clicking on the following link: This has been tried at some other schools, and has worked pretty well. The only major concern I have about doing something like this at Illinois is that we haven't had a sellout in quite some time, and also the fact that Ohio State notoriously travels well, so there probably will be pockets of scarlet and grey sprinkled through the orange and blue. However, a very cool concept if they can pull this one off, so be on the lookout that day when you watch the game on television for those of you not attending the game in person.

The Fighting Illini women's volleyball team cleared the first hurdle since becoming the #1 team in the nation with successive match wins over Indiana and #12 ranked Purdue last weekend at Huff Hall in Champaign. In front of a capacity crowd on Saturday night to watch the Illini defeat the Boilermakers (about 500 people had to be turned away), Kevin Hambly's squad rose to the occasion, and rode the crowd to victory. The road doesn't get any easier for the Illini spikers this coming weekend, as they go on the road to face a couple of stern tests in Ohio State on Friday night, then traveling to #9 Penn State on Saturday evening. The Illini currently stand 15-0 overall and 4-0 in Big Ten play.

Janet Rayfield's women's soccer team got back on the winning track as well last weekend, as they swept a couple of home matches at the Illinois soccer complex. The Illini defeated Indiana on Friday evening 4-1, then completed the sweep by knocking off Purdue 1-0 on Sunday. The Illini get back into action this coming weekend when they travel to East Lansing to battle Michigan State on Saturday afternoon. The game is at noon central time, but will on the Big Ten Network as a tape delayed broadcast Sunday afternoon at 5 pm central time. Currently the Illini are 8-4-1 overall and 2-2-1 in conference play.

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